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Alternative Learning System for the Aeta Community: Equalizing Education to Cultural Minority Groups in Lopez, Quezon, Philippines

“ALS is expected to provide solutions in areas of conflict, critical thinking, in indigenous people communities and in areas where literacy is most wanting and where literacy is needed.”

Hon. Jesli Lapus, Secretary of Department of Educatin

The government’s vision for non-formal education is revitalized and epitomized through an Executive Order No. 358 S. 2004, rnaming and reinventing of the Bureau of Nonformal Education to Bureau of Alternative Learning System (BALS) whose vision is to view the Philippines as a nation where all the citizens, especially the marginalized individual or group of learners who could not equitably gain access to formal education because of unwanted conditions, be given equal access to quality education by taking an alternative learning system that will enable them to become productive workforce and members of the land. As its mandates, ALS is propelled by its functions to:

  1. Address the learning needs of the marginalized groups of the population including the deprived , depressed, and underserved citizens;
  2. Coordinate with various agencies for skills development to enhance and ensure continuing employability, efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness in the labor market;
  3. Ensure the expansion of access to educational opportunities for citizens of different interests, capabilities demographic characteristics and socio-economic origins and status; and
  4. Promote certification and accreditation of alternative learning programs both formal and informal in nature of basic education.

This mini case study focuses on the role of the ALS programs catered by the Lopez East District ALS coordinator and its local instructional managers to address the present needs and to delineate briefly their clienteles’ way of life in the settlement or community in Brgy. Villa Espina, Lopez, Quezon. The Aetas in Lopez, Quezon can not be overlooked for they are already adapting to the changes in their surrounding. Furthermore, being members of the disadvantage group of people, giving them the opportunity to equal access to education is a priority concern of the government being carried over by its local counterpart.

While some nongovernmental organizations also take part in aiding educational facilities and health and sanitation service, this mini-case study highlighted only the application of ALS in the promotion of literacy among the Aetas of Lopez, Quezon, describing the attitude or responses of the clienteles in Aeta community toward the realization of educational efforts starting February 2008 to the present.

This case study includes the initiatives and actions of the ALS coordinator and her instructional managers’ common experience with their clienteles and the attitude or behavior of the Aeta clienteles toward its programs. It also includes ethnographic account of how the usual ALS class goes on. The student-researchers were able to validate such remarks and notes in direct observations and interview they conducted at the Aeta clienteles and its immediate community.

Majority of the data used in this report were drawn from interview and observations from the school site and reports of the Lopez East District Alternative Learning System Office. On the other hand, this mini-case study had also limitations. The researchers initially recommend that another follow or related study on the subjects be conducted concerning on the cultural impact of this learning in an alternative way.


The Alternative Learning System Coordinator of Lopez East District who is in-charged of delivering the programs of BALS to the Aeta community is Mrs. Angelina J. Oblina. On her team are two Instructional Managers (IM) and an Aeta coordinator. The two instructional managers are the key teachers and implementers who directly get involved and supervised and promote ALS program to the Aeta Community. Mrs. Mabel A. Oblina and Wilma Capistrano are the IMs, who are paid by the local government with a monthly honorarium of P 4, 500.00 pesos each. The Aeta coordinator is Andy Villa Franco, local villager who maintains direct contact to the Aeta community clienteles in the absence of the IMs or the ALS coordinator.

From non-formal to ALS, it formally opened last February 2008. Through local ALS Coordinator’s initiatives of hiring local funded instructional managers and her unquestionably commitment to its program implementation, ALS instruction to the Aeta community begun. Since its target clienteles are the Aeta community, encouragement and recruitment to this displaced minority was the biggest toll at the onset.

Formerly, on her report, Mrs. Oblina was able to delineate some of its beginning noting the following points.

Tribal groups, specifically Aetas are the deprived, depressed and undeserved population. Their settlement can be found in a far-flung area. Uncivilized and illiterate, only few attended formal schooling because they do not understand the benefit that education could give to a person. On September 1, 1994, Non-Formal Education (NFE) brought the school for the Aetas, through “Magbasa Kita Project” a basic literacy program of the department. I was assigned to handle the class or community of Aeta as “para-teacher” at the same time “ate” not ma’am or teacher by the Aetas. Back then, I introduced the phono-syllabic lessons. The school was made up of nipa that existed in Villa Espina. The enrollees of these classes are of no age limit.

Dealing with Aetas as one of the NFE/ALS clienteles is not an easy task for me. So, I mobilized our local system. It is indeed very challenging on our part. We had a hard time encouraging and motivating them so that they will come to school. Convincing them to come to school even included drinking liquor with them. Furthermore, we use variety of ways and approaches to be able to win their interest. The school set-up lasted for some years yet their ways of living have not changed despite all the efforts exerted by their other mentors. Some still carried the old practices and do not even own a house where they can live permanently and comfortably.

Construction of two-room building sponsored by the ABS-CBN “Tree of Hope Program” built last year (2007) became one of the motivating factors that led the Aetas to take ALS program. ALS program formally started from February to April 2008. Fortunately, out of more or less 50 households, Fifty-four Aetas were its first batch of students. The group was divided into two separate classes. The first group consisted of young Aetas for 6 to 13 years old under the tutelage of Mrs. Wilma A. Oblina. This group is at the beginning level of instructional. The other class, under Mrs. Wilma Capistrano comprised of the teenagers to adult consisting of 13 years old to as old as forty-four. This group could be considered as emergent learners progressing from the very basic level. During this grace period, meetings were done three times a week. Instruction during those times focused mainly to basic literacy focus, which is more on reading of the alphabet (phono-syllabic lessons), writing (specifically writing their names) and clienteles’ adjustment to alternative schooling.

Alternative Learning System programs continued starting this beginning school year, June 2008. There was an increased enrolment. From fifty-four (54) Aetas who enrolled last February, it escalated to seventy-four (74) this June. Out of this 74, majority of which is female, 65% and male, 35%. Ten of which are parents and mostly are young ones. “However, maintaining 100% attendance is the biggest problem,” the instructional managers noted. On the average, 50-60 % of the total enrolment comes to school regularly. Consequently, the food for school program requested by the ALS District Coordinator which the Local Government Unit (LGU) addressed the problem of abseeteism among the Aetas. However sustaining the program is another concern. Meetings this time are from Monday to Friday not unlike the previous one, which is only three times.

The coordinator and instructional managers would recount that the usual or typical day would go like this…

The Aeta-clienteles would come to school in the morning. Not all students would come early. Others were still be coming from Brgy. Pisipis and other neighboring barangays. Some wore uniform others in their ragged cloths. A flag ceremony used to be held at the start of the week. Then, the Aetas did housekeeping and other pre-routinary activities. Basic alphabet to word reading, writing, and arithmetic activities were provided for three hours. We would read aloud the alphabet, minimal pair words, read short passages, and ask them to read aloud and write. Most of them get bored easily for they had different types of learning. Most of them had usually short span of attention so we had quick breaks from time to time.

Preparing the meal of the day was the most important for them. Since some of them had not taken breakfast or suffer the day before. After the early morning routinary activities, we would be preparing the meal of the day where everybody will be part. Food is the best reward and encouragement we could offer them. Because of food nourishment, they come to school. There was even an incident that Aeta would come very late to school just in time for lunch. After a while or a siesta, Afternoon session would be allotted to free and varied activities. Film viewing occupied the most times, because of the Television set and educational package, we have recently received from a donation all the way from Hawaii. Televiewing became a part of the afternoon session. When the day was over, we teachers could not help but be challenged different adjustments met so as our Aeta clienteles.

We find teaching and learning with them demanding yet very stimulating because of some reasons:

· Some unsanitary practices of some of the Aeta clienteles are lessened. We introduced teaching of basic sanitary hygiene. However, for customary reason few would not heed our advice for it already became their system since they were born. Consequently, we got use to some of their unsanitary practices but we always address them as much as possible teaching the parent clienteles the right ways though most of them do not care much to their children for customary reason.

· Abseetism is also common problem since the approach is new for them at the start. Looking at them from a day-to-day perspective, most of them skip school because some work in farms by harvesting young anahaw leaves or working with their specific “Amos”, and for very apparent reason, if there are times that we don’t have food or meal of the day to offer them, we would rather have an empty room than to have clienteles with empty stomachs.

· Aetas clienteles interact with the ALS program differently. Students learning style and mental capacity vary different from one another. Some learn smoothly. Others need constant review. At the beginning level, it is common to see Aeta-clienteles to misspell their names what is even the worse is that they sometimes forget their surname or they change their names.

· Few of their practices are still prevalent but mostly are dead or forgotten. One Aeta client even shares that they could no longer remember any tribal rites taught to them by the elders. Still, some of them wander and work from the community to nearby barangays. They don’t permanently stay in one place, except of course for those who have learned to fit in to the local villagers. What is quite pressing for us in relation to their ways is that an early marriage is common thing. An Aeta could already find and live with his/her partner at the age of 12. In addition, they could easily switch or change partner as the pair pleases. Another noticeable activity they often engage with is drinking. Moreover, in certain occasion, a villager could get along with most of the Aeta over bottles of liquor or any alcoholic drink and if Aetas drink alcohol, it ends to a drinking spree. This manner somehow affects their attitude to learning. An adult Aeta clientele could compromise going to school just to a bottle of liquor.

Battling these all sort of things every day, we as their teachers or “Ate” as they call us, could freely tell that we influence their lives toward the basic literacy and even more. Most of them have already accustomed to the ways of the civilized people. Emerging clienteles whom we have been teaching hard can already read and write basic Filipino words, can calculate numbers so that they well not be cheated by their “Amos” for their fair share of farm works, can practices basic sanitary hygiene from brushing of teeth to basic housekeeping, and for some who have fitted in to the latest technology can send short messaging service (SMS) via cellphone. The Aetas in Brgy. Villa Espina are becoming like civilized people because of us, other local villager’s intervention, and the influences of the latest technology-stricken world.

With the programs being offered by the District, seeing ALS greater impact for the future of the Aeta community, has a long way to go, of which the District Coordinator and the researchers unanimously agreed upon adding that a lot of concerns or priorities still must and should be acted promptly.


“Education to be meaningful must be rooted in the community life and experience of the people; because learning takes place in this context as well as in the way they understand the stages of their cycle.”

BALS framework

To ensure the expansion of access of educational opportunities and capability building, the BALS national office has been training its ALS district coordinators starting the opening year. One seminar on ALS Trends & Updates for Full Time District ALS Coordinators impacted much the approaches of Mrs. Oblina and her team of local counterparts. Myriad of realization was absorbed by contemplating and living up with the BALS framework. It does require change from their usual approaches.

Meanwhile, on a division level training, the local ALS people and some of the Aeta representatives attended just recently this month (August 2008). They were exposed to training framework for the Indigenous People (IP) and Indigenous People Core Curriculum (IPCC). With the help, expertise of local indigenous people and in coordination with the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) Summer Institutes of Linguistic (SIL) and other IP concerned agencies: the Bureau was able to develop an Indigenous Peoples (IP) Core Curriculum. The competencies identified by the ALS curriculum are now realized through a modular system of education that will guide the coordinator, Instructional Managers and the Aeta clienteles to mode and education the clienteles will receive.

Citing this remarkable interventions or realization, the following concerns and points are noted by experts for the culturally sensitive and integrative delivery of instruction to the IP, specifically the Aeta clienteles:

    1. The development process not only ensured a culture-sensitive core curriculum but also maximized local participation in all aspects of decision making and actions relevant to the finalization of the IP Core Curriculum.

    1. Expert on IPCC remarked that without necessarily emphasizing an overkill tone, the highly western-entrenched current educational system has contributed to the further marginalization and exploitation of IPs. The said system has been producing graduates who are trained to become employees and not as entrepreneurs who can become employers.

    1. The Right-Based Approach (RBA) to education verbalizes these facts. Its strengths sustainable development and the exercise of self-determination in as much as education is supposed to be an “enabling” (for recognition and empowerment), an “ensuring” (for protection) and an “enhancing” (for development and promotion) tool for indigenous Peoples, their ancestral domains and their cultural integrity.

Adding the important issues mentioned, on the literature of a news article of Ina Hernando-Malipot, available at http://www.mb.com.ph/issues/2008/08/18/YTCP20080818132815.html, she stressed the study done by Dr. Jill Bevan-Brown, associate professor at Massey University in New Zealand during the 5th International Conference on Teacher Education (ICTED) marking that the children with special needs from ethnic minority groups can have additional disadvantage.

In her talk entitled, “Culturally Appropriate Provisions for Children with Special Needs from Ethnic Minority Groups: A Story of Two Maori Initiatives,” Dr. Brown mentioned that for children with special needs from ethnic minority groups, having access to special education provisions is not a problem. In fact, in various special education categories, they are over-represented. “However, receiving an education that is culturally-appropriate and effective is major issue.”

“Thus, we have developed two initiatives that aim to improve this situation – the teachers conducting a cultural self-review of their early childhood center or school as part of their SpEd qualification; and the involvement of government agencies, teachers and parents of the children,” Dr. Brown revealed.

Dr. Brown finally said that in gaining education, children with special needs have additional challenges compared to their non-disabled peers. “Similarly, children with special needs from ethnic minority groups face challenges their disabled peers from majority cultures do not face, these children have been dealt ‘double whammy’.”

The literature clearly appeals that change or innovation must be made to fit to the educational needs of the Aeta community in Brgy. Villa Espina, Lopez, Quezon. Since the ALS in this community is newly born, greater measures adaptive to their or Aeta clienteles’ culture which is being compromised should and must be acted upon not only by the ALS people, but also by the LGU, the NCIP, and most of all by people who are in control of major local resources.


The following questions have become starting points to ponder. Is the ALS in Villa Espina “enabling” its Aeta clienteles (for recognition and empowerment)? “Ensuring” (for protection)? And “enhancing” (for development and promotion) tool for indigenous Peoples, their ancestral domains and their cultural integrity?

Mrs. Oblina is hopeful that the modules on functional literacy that they have been waiting to be delivered by the national office would be received at the soonest possible time to empower the process of instruction and therefore the Aeta clienteles. The Local Government Unit through the Municipal Mayor, Hon.Isaias Ubana, has been planning an initiative that would give the Aeta community a place of home and refuge where their inherit and latent cultural ways and norms will be restored and revived. The Municipal Mayor himself has just disclosed this local initiative to the ALS coordinator. This mode of action if achieve would ensure protection. However, issues about ancestral domain surfaces. This is not the first time, municipal heads before the incumbent mayor had been appealed by the Aeta community though their local chieftain for support of their ancestral land recovery. Unfortunately, the petition for land recovery fell to deaf ears or should the researchers say “no clear response at the moment”.

With the trainings and supports given by the national and local government units side by side with the non-governmental sectors, the ALS Lopez East District and the researchers envision that the ALS for the Aeta community in Lopez, Quezon on its long-term target goals will continue to realize and realize those following plans of:

· Offering of food for school program be sustained and as time progress be replaced by a sustainable livelihood programs which the Aeta clienteles can be trained of and apparently leading to their independence from aids to self-sufficient and working individual or group of the community;

· Liberating the members of the Aeta community from ignorance to functionally literate people. A functionally literate person is defined as one who can communicate effectively, solve problems scientifically, creatively and think critically, use resources sustainable and be productive, develop himself/herself and his/her sense of community and expand his/her world view;

· Accessing to accreditation and competency tests is given to the ALS Aeta graduates. If the clientele is successful in the competency exam, going or transferring to the higher formal education if he or she desires, will be straightforward for them;

· Having properly paid, equipped, and trained instructional managers. Nationalization of the locally compensated IMs will empower them further to work not only as a teacher but as highly committed social workers for the betterment of the clienteles; and

· Educating them not only for literacy but also for restoration of their cultural ways as Indigenous People (IP) who have their cultural integrity and ancestral domains creating their own cultural identity as part and parcel of the Lopez, Quezon community and of the Filipino people.

To achieve all of these, which some are still in plans, need hand-in-hand actions emanating both from the government and from the Aeta community. If this will be realized, equitable access to education is now at hand to those who need and aspire for it. Apparently, tt comes from alternative ways, if non-governmental sectors even take part to this movement like the ABSCBN school building project for the Aeta, and other philanthropic individual who are all genuine in their interests, the social cultural revival and education empowerment for the Aetas will surely be accomplished.

References and Further Readings:

Ina Hernando-Malipot news article available at http://www.mb.com.ph/issues/2008/08/18/YTCP20080818132815.html

Executive Order No. 358 S. 2004 available at http://www.ops.gov.ph/records/eo_no356.htm

The Indigenous Peoples Core Curriculum by Department of Education, Bureau of Alternative Learning System (BALS) Handouts 2006

Lopez East District Alternative Learning System Initial School Reports SY 2008-2009

Acknowledgements are given to the following persons for the interviews, observation and other data gathered of which the researchers are greatly indebted with.

MRS. ANGELINA J. OBLINA, Lopez East District ALS Coordinator

MRS. MARIVEL A. OBLINA, Instructional Manager

MRS. WILMA S. CAPISTRANO, Instructional Manager